Whether this is your first or fifth time raising a 10-year-old, it’s normal to wonder what life tasks they should be able to master to ensure they are on their way to achieving independence. We may find ourselves comparing our situations to those of friends and think, “Am I sheltering my child too much? Am I allowing him to take care of himself the way most tweens are doing? Or am I holding him back (or, conversely, giving him too much freedom)?”
The truth is, no two children are alike. One 10-year-old may be perfectly capable of cleaning his room without supervision, while another will stash dirty plates and wrappers under the bed. We should never assume our children are lacking if they fail to live up to our expectations — people, even little people, are far more complex than that.
But because parents can’t help but be curious, Dr. Mayra Mendez, a psychotherapist and program coordinator for intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental health services at Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center, gives us 13 skills she says most 10-year-old children should have mastered or should be working toward mastering.
1. They groom themselves independently — Sure, you may need to lend a hand if your daughter has a massive knot in her hair, but in general, 10-year-old’s are brushing their own hair, adding a headband or even a bit of pomade on special occasions and taking more of an interest in sprucing up their appearance.
2. They complete chores they are expected to perform at home — They’re still a few years away from impressing you with their superior bathroom-cleaning skills, but kids should be able to pick up and put away their toys, take dishes to the sink after dinner, set the table, take out the trash, vacuum and dust and make their own bed.
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3. They prepare simple meals — Parents of 10-year-olds should finally be able to sleep in another hour on the weekends. Kids at this age can pour themselves a bowl of cereal with milk or even make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (though it’s probably still safest to let them use a butter knife and help them cut it in half).
4. They can self-serve at the kitchen table — Even if they spill a bit of juice along the way, let your 10-year-old pour her own drinks from a jug and serve herself food from a tray.
5. Can shop until they drop (well, sort of) — If your tween gets an allowance or monetary gift, he or she will probably love having the opportunity to rummage around shops for a favorite video game or book. They should be allowed to make small purchases and gain firsthand experience of how shopping transactions work.
6. Shows caution with dangerous items — Your 10-year-old knows not to run around with scissors or a knife in hand and can be trusted not to place a hand on the stove or in the oven without oven mitts. He may still need to be reminded which items never to place in the microwave, but has gained a healthy respect and caution for most dangerous items.
7. Calls for help — He or she should know exactly what to do if someone in the house is hurt or needs help. This includes knowing how to use a cellphone to call 911 and having memorized the numbers and names of family members or friends who can also assist. It helps to post a list of emergency contacts on the fridge and to periodically remind your child of the steps he or she should take if someone is in danger.
8. Obeys traffic signs and signals — We always want to hold their hands, but at 10, we shouldn’t have to hold them as they cross the street unless they really want us to (and most won’t). Basic traffic signs and signals should be understood and followed — with the exception, of course, of signs with crazy squiggly lines that no adult even comprehends.
9. Demonstrates safety awareness with strangers — They’ve developed a keener awareness of who they can and should trust and which strangers require distance until trust has been established. They won’t take gifts from strangers, approach them near their cars or assume they all have their best interests in mind.
10. Showers or bathes independently — You’ve done your job — now it’s time to trust that your child understands why and when it’s important to clean their bodies and how to use a washcloth, loofah and shampoo and conditioner to get the job done without any help. Their bodies are also beginning to change and this is the time when they will likely resist your offers of bath/shower help.
11. Gets ready for bed without you begging them to do so — No one is suggesting your child will want to go to bed instead of watching TV all night, but by 10, kids are able to put on their own pajamas and go through the motions of their bedtime routine without you prompting them to do so every step of the way.
12. Can brush and floss their teeth independently — There should be no reason for you to stand guard and make sure they’re getting their back teeth, as well. Let them apply toothpaste to their brushes, dig out the floss from the cabinet and take care of their own sparkly whites.
13. They can dress themselves and pick out their own clothes — You may not always love their choices, but it’s important to let 10-year-old children make their own clothing choices, lay out their clothes the night before school and dress and undress each day. Show them where to put dirty clothing so it doesn’t wind up on their bedroom floor and look the other way when they pair a blue T-shirt with green pants.